Posts Tagged ‘Cheap family fun’

This week I’ve been posting lots of ideas on Facebook for fun activities to do with kids for those who are stressed and overwhelmed by suddenly having kids home for an extended spring break with nowhere to go. In the midst of all the fear and loss, I’m continuing to celebrate with my family. Why? Because God taught me during the 7 weeks my mom was on hospice before she died that celebration is a powerful tool to help us overcome the darkness of grief and despair. During that time, I went through with plans to host a Sunday School party, celebrate my 20th anniversary, and threw parties for Father’s Day, my daughter’s birthday, and the 4th of July. Now, I also spent a lot of time sitting quietly with the Lord and processing emotions, so celebration was not an avoidance activity. Rather, I discovered that the reason God urged me to keep celebrating was that it gave life to my soul so that I did not whither up and die inside while my mother was dying.

This same truth is even more important in our current world situation. All of our focus has been on keeping our bodies healthy and protected, but the health of your body is tied to the health of your soul.

Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. – 3 John 1:2

Your soul is made up of your mind, will, and emotions. Doctors have discovered that the health of your body is linked to your mental and emotional state. (For a fascinating look at how fearful thoughts release negative chemicals into your body that, if left unchecked, can result in both mental and physical illness, read Dr. Caroline Leaf’s book, The Perfect You.) The more our minds spin out of control with fear and the more we dwell on loss, the more our immune system is compromised. The very thing we want – health – can be undermined by obsessing over it! However, laughter and celebration counter the negative effects of fear and loss. Focusing on positive thoughts sends feel-good chemicals throughout the body, and laughter is medicine for the soul.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. – Philippians 4:8

We take seriously scriptural commands like love your neighbor, but do we also obey commands like the one above, to fix our thoughts on what is good? This is not an optional suggestion; this is life support for your soul. Instead of singing the birthday song while washing your hands, try naming five things that fit in the above category, and see how that affects your mental state. While washing your hands, imagine washing off fear and discouragement. In the same way you would apply lotion to hands that are continuously being washed, picture adding fun and celebration into your life as putting healing balm on your soul to protect it from being stripped of joy. Your physical, mental, and emotional health all matter to God, which is why the Scriptures address every area of our lives, in order to build us up and strengthen us to withstand all the fiery darts of the enemy.

So how do you keep celebrating and having fun when you’re trapped at home? Take it from a former homeschooler who could only afford homemade fun for several years because of my husband’s unemployment, all you need is a little creativity to turn simple activities you probably already enjoy into epic adventures and lifelong memories.

“March Madness” Tournament
This year, we’re turning family game night into an ongoing “March Madness” tournament. We’ll assign a points system to every game we play and keep track of totals throughout the week, with a final “playoff” between the top 2 scorers. For partner activities, the winning team will get to add points to their individual scores. Each day we’ll likely compete in a different category:

  • Board Games – Games like Life, Candyland, and other games my teenagers haven’t played in a while
  • Outdoor Games – Croquet, Frisbee Golf, and made-up obstacle courses at our local park. (Too cold to go outside where you live? Check out my post on a snow-themed family fun night and have a sock ball “snowball” fight instead!)
  • Video Games  – We’ll dust off the old Wii to play Wii bowling and rock out to Band Hero, then everyone – boys included – will compete in my daughter’s Just Dance game on the Xbox
  • “Chopped” Cooking Challenge – Just like the Food Network show, “Chopped,” contestants will compete to make the best tasting food from a basket of random ingredients. (We may have to take food to my Dad to judge…unless it’s really gross.) Since my daughter’s in culinary class at school, she’ll team up with my husband and I’ll partner with my son for this challenge. I’ve decided it will be leftovers-themed, with the main ingredients pulled from odds and ends in the fridge and freezer. (Bonus – spring cleaning of the fridge and freezer accomplished!)
  • Team Game Night – We’ll pair up in teams for fun games that make us laugh, like Taboo, Guesstures (charades), and Cranium, etc.
  • Craft Competition – I’ll pull out random craft items leftover from our homeschooling days and challenge everyone to come up with the most creative creation. (We’ll likely turn to Facebook to judge this competition.)
  • Word Game Night – My family loves games like Scattergories, Boggle, and Bananagrams
  • We’ve also toyed with the idea of a wacky talent competition, turning to Facebook friends as judges, but we’ll see how much we want to publicly humiliate ourselves…

Themed Family Fun Nights
The easiest way to make an ordinary activity memorable is to combine it with a few other activities in a theme. To accomplish this, I pair a menu with a movie and a related activity. For instance, since our plans to go out to eat and see a movie in the theater had to be adjusted, we’re going to order Chinese food from a locally-owned restaurant because we want to support small businesses that are trying to stay open. To turn take-out into a Chinese-themed fun night we’ll:

  • Eat with chopsticks
  • Read funny Chinese-to-English translations found on the internet (Warning: preview before reading with kids because the top sites contain at least one four-letter word)
  • See who can make up the funniest fortune cookie-type fortune
  • Watch one of our all-time favorite comedies, “Kung Fu Panda”
  • Can’t order out where you are? Make my easy crock pot gluten free fried rice or head to an Asian grocery store to pick up a variety of foods you’ve never tried for a culinary adventure.

Another simple way to do a family fun night is to let one family member choose a game to play, another chooses the dinner menu (from a few choices offered by you), another chooses dessert, and another family member picks a movie to watch together. Everybody contributes, so everyone feels valued.

Outside Experiences at Home
If your travel plans got canceled, why not do a mini version at home? Many museums are posting virtual tours. You can explore almost any place on the internet. But around here, we like to replicate experiences through hands-on activities like:

  • Indoor Camping – Set up a small tent or make a fort in your living room, get out the sleeping bags, and let the kids pretend they’re in the woods. I did this for my kids for years for spring break because they loved it. Some years were more elaborate than others, with chalk sunsets drawn on butcher paper, paper cut-out flames assembled over wood for a fake fire, every plant or plastic tree from our home brought in as foliage, stuffed animals set up as woodland creatures, and flashlights to shine on glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. This year, we won’t be doing that, but we will roast hot dogs and marshmallows for s’mores in our outdoor fire pit.
  • Indoor Fun Park – Had to cancel plans to the local arcade or fun park? Make your own carnival with whatever prizes you can scrounge up at home. Grab the spinner from your Life game and turn it into a spin-the-wheel game for points or prizes. Use the ring from a canning jar to create a ring toss game. We use our Twister mat for a bean bag toss target, but toss whatever you want (like small stuffed animals or foil balls). Turn the living room into a mini-golf course with furniture as obstacles. (If you don’t have kiddie clubs and balls, any ball and stick will work.) Pull out the Nerf guns and set up targets to shoot at. The possibilities are endless.
  • Spa Day – You can find homemade spa treatments online to delight your little princess. Pamper her with a mani and pedi, or let her glam up with your make-up (or inexpensive make-up from the dollar store). Even better, let her do YOUR make-up and hair!
  • Live Out Your Favorite (non-violent) Video Game – Most people turn to video games to live out their fantasies, but we did the reverse. My son’s favorite spring break activity was back in 5th grade when he and his friends were into Minecraft. I gathered up broken toys and miscellaneous junk from the garage and scattered it all over the floor. I told the boys they’d crash landed on a deserted island, the junk was the wreckage of their plane, they needed to use what they had to make shelter and defend themselves from the mysterious predators on the island, then handed them duct tape and said, “Go.” In the process of creating their shelter and weapons, they also created the story they were living in and had a blast. Do your kids prefer Star Wars or sword-fighting games? Scroll to the bottom of this post to find my husband’s instructions for how to make safe, inexpensive boffer swords for sword play (outside, of course).

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Whatever your family enjoys, I encourage you to do it and do it together. Let this time of isolation from outside activities be an opportunity to connect and draw closer as a family. Continuing to celebrate and laugh together strengthens your soul and body. And when fear tries to creep in and steal your joy, remember these words from God:

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. – Isaiah 41:10

To learn more about how God helps us overcome fear and other strongholds, check out my new website at TillingMinistries.com, where you can download my free Bible Study, “Entering God’s Promised Rest.”



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Whether you’re planning a “staycation” this summer, or just looking for some fun day trip ideas to stave off summer boredom, Southwest Idaho’s Treasure Valley has some fantastic, family-friendly attractions like Roaring Springs Water Park and Wahooz. But for those of us who don’t have wads of cash lying around, there are plenty of less expensive destinations for family fun.  Last summer, I made a point of visiting several of these hidden gems and discovered that there’s really no place like home!  Here are some of our favorite summer activities that are either free or cost a fraction of what you’d pay at the usual summer hangouts.

Instead of an Expensive Water Park, Try…

Eagle Island State Park
Eagle Island State Park – Located on a curve of the Boise River in Eagle, this “island” has a playground and long length of beach that’s perfect for building sand castles and cooling off in the water.  The swimming area has boundary ropes to keep kids from going too deep, and there are several shady trees where parents can watch kids play, since there are no lifeguards on duty.  (However, I’d suggest bringing a beach umbrella or free-standing shade if you can, since the park can get busy on the weekends.)  If you want your kids to enjoy the thrill of a water slide without gouging your wallet, the park has an old school water slide on the weekends that costs $1/slide, $8/10 slides, or $12/day.  When we go, I spend $8 on the 10-slide band which comes with tear-off tickets my kids can share, since after 5 slides they’re usually ready to go back to the beach.  We bring our own float tubes, which you can air up at the park for $.50.  I found 38-in. tubes with handles for $6 at Target, and these last for years.  If you spent $10 on the State Parks Passport when you registered your vehicle (since this pass is tied to vehicle registration), you can get into the park for free.  If not, it’s only $5/vehicle.

Lucky Peak

Sandy Point Beach at Lucky Peak Reservoir – Another beach lies just outside of Boise, and is also free with the State Parks Passport (or $5/vehicle).  The swimming area is much larger, but remains shallow all the way out to the water fountain in the middle.  There are lots of great shade trees that are closer to the beach, so this is a good park for families with toddlers who need to stay a little closer to parents.  The downside of this beach is that there can be a lot of geese in the area, but it didn’t bother us when we visited.  They’ve recently installed a Frisbee golf course, which we look forward to checking out.

Floating the Boise River – For some kid-friendly thrills, try taking older kids floating down the Boise River (and by “older,” I mean kids you will enjoy being stuck with in the middle of a river for 1 1/2 – 2 hrs.).  It’s best to do this mid-summer when the river has warmed up and the water level is a little lower and slower.  (A 90 degree day is perfect for rafting, although you may prefer a warmer temperature if you’re tubing.)  If you’re like me and have inherited a raft from parents who are willing to drop you off at Barber Park (where you can air up your raft for free), then wait for you at the exit point in Ann Morrison Park, then this activity is free.  If not, you can take 2 vehicles and drop one off in Ann Morrison before continuing on to Barber Park or take advantage of the $3/person shuttle available at Barber Park.  They also have raft and tube rentals there.  We enjoy a raft and tube combo by tying one of our tubes to the raft so kids can take turns floating in the tube, but then hop back in the raft when we get to the “rapids” (which are just a few very mild waterfalls, but add to the excitement for kids).  A word to the wise, though: Stay away from the edges, and when you get to a fork in the river, take the path everyone else is taking, unless you want to get out and carry your raft back to the river.  And don’t forget the sunscreen!

Parks with Splash Pads – If your kids are too young to float the river, Kleiner Memorial Park (near The Village) and Settlers Park in Meridian are two fabulous parks for little ones with splash pads for water play when kids get too hot on the jungle gym.  They also both have concession stands.  Kleiner, with its unique playground equipment, is a nice size for toddlers because it’s smaller and easier for parents to keep an eye on kids.  Settlers Park has a huge playground and splash pad that can keep my kids entertained for hours.  There’s not a whole lot of shade, though, so you may need to bring your own if you have a large group.  Settlers also has a music play area, climbing area, tennis courts and more, so bring flip flops or water shoes that will allow your kids to go back and forth between activities and water play.

Instead of Expensive Fun Parks for Mini-Golf, Arcade Games, and Bowling, Try…

Ridgecrest Wee 9

9-hole Golf at Ridgecrest – Ridgecrest Golf Course in Nampa has a great deal for families on their Wee 9 course every Saturday and Sunday after 4 p.m.  As long as you have at least one child golfing with you, the cost is only $5/person for 9 holes – cheaper than mini-golfing at Wahooz!  (They have some clubs available to use, if you don’t have children’s clubs.)  This is an annual activity for us because it’s a nice course with a beautiful view of the mountains, there are special kids tees (in yellow) so the kids can start closer to the hole, and it’s great exercise.

Frisbee Golf – No golf clubs?  No problem!  There are lots of Frisbee golf courses in the area, including a nice one in Boise’s Ann Morrison Park.  Settlers Park and Eagle Island State Park have courses set up in the winter.  Our favorite course is at West Park in Nampa, which ends at a playground.  Any old Frisbee will do, but it is easier if you use the smaller discs (found in any sporting goods store) designed for Frisbee golf.  You can find a decent putter for $10, and that’s all most of us need.  To play, simply find the tee marked #1 and aim for the metal basket.  When you reach the “hole,” you should be able to see the next tee.  (You can often find course maps online, which takes away some of the guesswork.)  We don’t keep score in our family, but we do have the kids practice proper etiquette by waiting for the person farthest from the hole to throw first before they throw their disc (which also prevents kids from getting whacked in the head by a Frisbee thrown behind them).  This is also great exercise, and even little kids can have fun throwing a Frisbee as they walk along the course.

Celebration Park Atlatl Range

Celebration Park – Instead of playing the same old arcade games in a dark, noisy room, take a short drive to Idaho’s only archaeological park, situated on the scenic Snake River.  You can throw an atlatl/prehistoric spear in the atlatl range and walk among petroglyphs that are 100 to 10,000 years old.  The visitor’s center is open from 10 – 2 p.m., and there’s a $2 entrance fee.  (This is a county park, not a state park, so the state passport doesn’t apply here.)  Bring a picnic to enjoy down by the river, and be sure to take the kids across the historic Guffey Railroad Bridge.

Dollar Days Bowling – When you’re tired of getting baked in the sun, bowling can be an inexpensive way to beat the heat.  Through the Kids Bowl Free program, kids can bowl 2 free games every day all summer long (although you still pay for shoe rental).  This is a national program and all you have to do is register online.  If you go to Nampa Bowl on Dollar Days (Tuesdays, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. or Fridays, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.), shoe rental and games – as well as hot dogs, fries, and drinks – are only $1 for all ages.  So a family of 4 can bowl for the price of 1 person at one of the arcadepalooza bowling alleys.  It is a smoke-free facility, and they have bumpers to make bowling more enjoyable for kids (and…um…moms).

Looking For Free Educational Activities to Stop The Summer Brain Drain?  Try…

MK Nature Center & Municipal Park – Tucked away in a corner of downtown Boise is a lovely stream-walk nature path where kids can view and learn about native fish, as well as enjoy some beautiful scenery.  The visitor’s center has some hands-on learning activities for kids, and it’s all free!  Bring a picnic and enjoy the afternoon at nearby Municipal Park which is on the Greenbelt path that winds along the banks of the Boise River, and part of the Idaho Birding Trail for bird viewing.  Don’t forget your binoculars and bird identification book!

Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology & Quarry View Park – Not far away from Municipal Park is Quarry View park, to the left of the entrance to the Old Penitentiary.  While the playground will mostly appeal to younger kids, there’s a large block of sandstone nearby with plaques that outline the area’s fascinating geological history.  (I’m not a geology nut, but I found it to be very interesting, and my kids enjoyed climbing on the rock.)  We stumbled upon this park on a visit to the Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology, which sits next to the Old Penitentiary.  While the Old Penitentiary and nearby Idaho Botanical Garden cost money, this museum is free and quite interesting.  (It does not have air-conditioning, however, so go in the morning!)  The Botanical Garden is definitely worth a visit, and has a lovely picnic area.  But if you want to picnic for free, check out Quarry View Park after you visit the museum.

The "Haunted Wastewater Tour" was...um...haunting.

The “Haunted Wastewater Tour” was…um…haunting.

Boise WaterShed Environmental Education Center – From 10 a.m. to noon each Wednesday during the summer, all ages can participate in interactive exhibits, do arts and crafts, and enjoy scientific demonstrations as well as hands-on presentations relating to environmental issues and conservation.  At 11 a.m., you can go on a tour of the wastewater treatment plant – a perfect educational activity for the tween boys in your life.  (Closed-toe shoes are required because ew.)  We went on the “Haunted Wastewater Tour” that’s offered in October.  It was literally the crappiest family outing ever, but lots of fun.  Please enjoy the above picture of my husband and son during this tour, as there will be no pictures of me in a hard hat on this blog.  Ever.

Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park & Observatory – Who needs snow when you can sled down the largest single-structure sand dune in North America!  About an hour east of Boise is Bruneau Dunes State Park, where you can climb the sand dunes and sled down, then cool off in the lake – although it’s not the greatest swimming spot, in my opinion.  (Be sure to bring bug spray and sun screen, and don’t forget your sled!)  The sand gets hot in the summer, so I’d recommend visiting in the morning if you’re planning on climbing the dunes.  However, if you prefer the evening, there is an observatory where you can gaze at the night sky on Friday and Saturday nights.  (Please visit the website for times and check the weather report before you go, to make sure your view won’t be obstructed by clouds.)  Although the observatory tour and orientation program are free, it costs $3/person to look through the telescopes (5 and under are free).  Entrance to the park is free with your State Parks Passport or $5/vehicle.

Instead of Blowing Your Budget on Babysitters and Summer Blockbusters at the Megaplex, Try…

Drive-In Movie – If you’ve never gone to a drive-in movie, you’re missing out!  It’s so much fun to hang out under the stars with other families and their pajama-clad kiddos.  This is an annual activity for our family, usually in May or September when the showtimes are earlier and the weather is cool.  The Terrace Drive-In is on the edge of Nampa in Caldwell, and you can’t beat the price for a double feature: $8/adult, kids under 12 are free.  You can bring your own food there, so I usually pop some popcorn at home and bring cookies and water bottles.  If it’s going to be cold, I’ll put hot chocolate in a thermos.  We throw tons of pillows and a couple sleeping bags in the back of the van with the back seats folded down so we can open the hatch and let the kids get cozy for the movie(s).  Typically, the first movie is a family-friendly feature.  Then little ones can crash while Mom and Dad (and older kids) watch their flick.  (My youngest usually poops out before the second movie, so we give her earplugs and let her go to sleep up front with the sound in the rear speakers for us.)  My husband and I bring camping chairs and sit outside under the stars – a great date when you can’t find (or afford) a babysitter!

$.50 Kids Movie Matinees – Another cheap summer treat is the “Family Days in the Summer” program at the Reel Theater.  Every Monday and Wednesday, the 10 a.m. showing of the kids movies that are rated G or PG costs only $.50/person or $2.50 for 3D movies (including adults).  With so many fun movies coming out this summer, if you have the patience to wait for a month or so, you’ll save a bundle on movie tickets.  (If you haven’t been there in a while, they have new leather reclining seats and all digital screens – not bad for $.50!)

Free Movies in the Park – Several communities show free family movies on an inflatable screen at dusk (around 9 p.m.), like Settlers Park in Meridian.  This year, Nampa is joining in the fun and showing family movies (like Frozen and The Lego Movie) on select dates at Nampa’s Optimist park.  Bring your blankets and lawn chairs for some free fun with your community.

So what are you waiting for!

You can write some of these activities on your calendar before the summer fills up, or jot down items from the list to place in a “Summer Fun Bucket” that you draw from when the kids start saying, “I’m booooooored.”  If you want to be able to spontaneously hop in the car and just go, I recommend keeping a backpack stocked and ready to grab on your way out the door.  Here’s what I keep in mine:

  • Camera (because my phone only makes phone calls)
  • Hats and sunglasses
  • Waterproof Sunscreen – I like the spray on kind for quick application
  • Bug spray
  • Antibacterial wipes – for cleaning dirty hands or other messes
  • Paper towels to eat off of and for clean-up – roll up several of the half-size towels, secure with a rubber band and store it in a ziplock bag (since sometimes you need an emergency ziplock bag to contain a mess, make an ice pack, etc.)
  • Magnifying glass, binoculars and bird identification book
  • Local parks/trails maps
  • Granola bars, fruit leather, etc.
  • Plastic grocery store sack for storing “treasures” the kids find (which you can throw away when you get home)

We always fill up water bottles on our way out the door, and usually fill our small cooler with easy picnic items like turkey breast cubes, cheese sticks, crackers or multigrain chips, carrots, and grapes or dried fruit.  I also like to keep the following items in our trunk:

  • Picnic blanket
  • Camping chairs (usually just 2 for my husband and me to sit on while the kids explore)
  • Magazine (for the aforementioned sitting)
  • Frisbees, playground ball and bases (for kickball)

Have a fabulous, inexpensive, fun-filled summer!  (Just don’t forget to “schedule” some lazy days, too.)

What are your favorite summer family activities?

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I hear you.  Your holiday checklist is not even close to being checked off.  Christmas is right around the corner and you’re just sure you’re letting everyone down this year.  There is so much to be done and so little time.  Having a “simple” Christmas sounds so alluring, but in reality, makes you feel like you’re just being lazy.

Can I respectfully enter your guilt trip for a moment and whisper a word of grace to you?  May I suggest that, perhaps, instead of a Pinterest Perfect Christmas, your family just wants you? I know that this time of year, Mom is the one who makes the “magic” happen, and it feels like a huge responsibility – because it is.  Perhaps, unrealistically so.  But the warmth that makes us fondly remember Christmases past comes from the feelings we felt with our loved ones – not the decorations, the food, nor even the presents.

This year I resolved to have a simplified, more joyful Christmas, and I can tell you that it’s worth it to say NO to the guilt monster.  Here is how I am having the most un-Pinterest-worthy and BEST Christmas ever, and my letter to “future stressed-out me” (which, perhaps, might encourage you, too):

Let Go Of Feeling Responsible For Everyone’s Merry Christmas
This year, for the first time in 17 years, we’re not writing a Christmas letter or printing family photo cards to send out.  Will some people be disappointed?  Probably.  But I am not responsible for their happiness.  Say it with me, moms: I am not responsible for everyone else’s happiness.  I realized that because of social media, we’re connected to the people on our list already.  If they want to know what’s going on in our family or see pictures of my kids, it’s all right there on my timeline.  However, I’ve also chosen to hand-write Christmas cards in response to those who took the time to send me one, and I respond to their letter with a much more personal note than the generic “Merry Christmas from our house to yours,” printed on a card that will likely end up in the trash.  Whether you’re stressed about cards, the gifts you’re giving (or not giving), or are just feeling guilty that you don’t have the energy to do all the things that please your family, give yourself permission to give what you can, not what you can’t.

“Good Enough” Can Be Best
One of our traditions that’s developed over the years is the observance of Saint Lucia Day, a Swedish holiday that we discovered one year when I was teaching my kids about the holiday customs of countries where we have ancestors.  In the past, I would go all out with a fancy breakfast for my daughter to serve, which is why she loves this holiday.  This year, I felt like I “should” get up early and make cinnamon rolls for the celebration, but decided instead to spend my morning sipping coffee and reflecting on scripture by the Christmas tree (which fills my bucket), and grabbed some gluten free doughnuts from the freezer for my daughter to serve instead.  Guess what?  It was just as special, and because I didn’t spend the morning in the kitchen, I offered to braid my daughter’s hair like her Swedish “Kirsten, an American Girl” doll.  She loved it!

St. Lucia Day

This time of year, it can be tempting to think that all our family needs from us is a feast of all their favorite foods, but taking a short-cut or two so you can offer your time instead can be so much more rewarding for all of you.  Why decorate every square inch of the house when a Christmas tree and a few clusters of decorations will do?  Maybe you have gorgeous Christmas china, but maybe your family would be fine with dinner served on festive paper plates so you can play games with them after dinner instead of doing dishes.  Because I had made time for self-care in the morning on St. Lucia Day, I had the energy to join my family at the Christmas Chemistry Show that night, which I usually delegate to my husband so I can stay home and wrap gifts.  I can’t tell you how excited my kids were to finally share this experience with Mom.  While they enjoy the things I do “for” them, what they really want is to do things “with” me.

Speaking of Gift Wrapping…
I am, perhaps, the laziest gift wrapper on the planet.  (See how “simple” makes us feel “lazy”?)  I reuse the same gift bags every year, and don’t even label them.  I simply assign a different color of tissue paper to each person, and it drives my children crazy because they don’t know which gifts are theirs.  <insert maniacal laugh>  Unfortunately, I usually forget whose gifts are whose by Christmas day, and end up peaking at all the gifts before I hand them out.  But still, it takes me less than a half-hour to wrap everyone’s gifts, which frees me up to do the holiday activities I enjoy, like reading with my kids by the Christmas tree.  This is perhaps my most freeing discovery: If I take advantage of time savers on the stuff that’s not meaningful for me, it gives me more time to focus on the things that are.

Do Crafts With Your Kids Only If You Enjoy It
Some years, I’ve given the kids plain gift bags or paper to decorate with stickers or stamps for extended family members, and the result is definitely not like the pictures of hand-made wrapping paper you see in Family Fun magazine (which, I’m pretty sure, were not actually decorated by children).  If you enjoy doing craftsy things with your kids, then go for it!  (Just stick the ugly packages under the back of the tree.)  If you’re like me and an afternoon of frosting a gingerbread house with your kids makes you borderline homicidal, then just say no.  If you do not enjoy making ornaments with your kids, find something to do with them that you DO enjoy instead (like baking, ice skating, playing games, putting together puzzles, etc.).  Just because there are women out there who love to decorate ornate packages with their children’s drawings and make fancy shmancy decorations with their kids out of stuff you and I put in the trash can, doesn’t mean we all have to do this.  Can I get an amen?

You Don’t Have To Leave Home To Make Memories
This year, because of my husband’s insanely busy work schedule, we’ve passed on a lot of community activities – and it’s been great!  Some years, you just can’t do it all, and that can be a wonderful thing.  My daughter was disappointed that we stayed home from the church Christmas party because my husband was sick and we’d had activities the previous two nights in a row.  So I decided to have an impromptu Family Fun Night.  My daughter got to pick a family game, my husband chose a holiday movie, I chose a holiday book for us to read together, and my son got to choose the dessert from a list of already made goodies (that included Reese’s Peanut Butter Trees because I don’t do marathon baking days).  We had a great time together and it took zero work.  The best thing about leaving white space on your calendar (or crossing some things off) is that it makes room for spontaneity which, I’ve discovered, is essential to my enjoyment of the holidays.  If the holiday “script” stresses you out, then make room on your calendar for some unscripted fun.  (And remember our mantra: I am not responsible for everyone’s Merry Christmas.)

But Do Leave Home If That’s What Energizes You
Holiday busyness can also take a toll on us and leave us feeling lonely and isolated.  However, you don’t have to clean your house from top to bottom and throw fancy parties to connect with friends and loved ones at Christmas.  Sometimes, the simplest get-togethers are the most enjoyable for everyone.  This year, we met up with a couple families at a theater to see a movie together, then went to a nearby family fun center for (gluten free!) pizza and burgers while the kids played arcade games with their friends.  We had a great time connecting with friends, and it energized us instead of exhausting us.  Especially if you are an extrovert, make time for people.  But you can do it while walking through a pretty area with Christmas lights or sipping eggnog lattes at your favorite coffee shop.  Have little ones?  Meet friends at a McDonald’s playplace and let the kids run around while you enjoy a $1 coffee.  Joy to the budget!

Remember That Jesus Is Not A Baby; He’s Your Savior
To be honest, some years it’s felt like the Baby Jesus was just one more child I had to serve at Christmas.  Can you relate?  However, Jesus didn’t come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28).  Have you let him minister to you recently?  This year, instead of trying to wring every ounce of meaning out of Luke 2 for a month, my family is finishing reading the Old Testament.  It’s been fun to play “Where’s Waldo” with the prophecies of Christ as they pop up in our readings.  Not only that, by avoiding reading the Christmas story until Christmas day, it’s creating a sense of anticipation and longing for the promised Messiah – exactly what Advent is all about!  Sometimes, we need to remember amid the hustle and bustle of Christmas, that God didn’t just send us a baby; he sent his only Son to fulfill his promise to save all who turn to him.

What do you need from Jesus today?  Joy, peace, patience?  Do you need him to whisper, “Be still and know that I am God” to remind you that you don’t have to be?  Hear the kindness and gentleness in his voice as he offers you this invitation:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

He is our joy this Christmas.  Let him lift the heavy burdens of false guilt and expectations from your shoulders.  Rest in him.  Christ is not interested in giving us a Pinterest-worthy Christmas; he wants to give us himself.  Likewise, when we work alongside our Savior to bless our families, Jesus helps us to let go of “ill-fitting” burdens so we can simply give the gift of our ourselves.  O come let us adore him, for in Christ we find freedom, rest, and joy!

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All right, now that I’ve posted my glowing report of the blessings of homeschooling my two kids, before you start thinking this mom has perfect kids who always behave, let me assure you it’s not all snuggles while we debate the classics around here. My kids are “normal,” by which I mean that they often drive me up the wall. Today, in particular, I feel the need to reach out to my fellow mothers of sons and just say,

It’s not you.  It’s them.

In an effort to keep it real, allow me to share the following email I sent to my husband this week:

Please make a mental note that when you get home you need to beat the snot out of the boy with the boffer swords (how ever many it takes).


He just took Ashtyn’s shoe while they’re on the swings. He has a seriously ornery streak in him right now that requires a sound beating from the Alpha Male (that’s you, by the way). You should also probably get out the airsoft guns.  (Feel free to “accidentally” miss the target and pelt the boy instead.)

Come home.  Soon.

Desperately Seeking Solitude

Yep, Mother of the Year. While I am not promoting violence toward children – if sarcasm is not your language, please understand that my husband and I speak it fluently to one another – there is actually some validity in my suggested course of action. This may be difficult for some moms to understand, but mothers, your boys are not like you. Even if they were sweet little angels from age 0-10, something happens when they are on the verge of puberty and hormones begin to exert their influence. Suddenly, your mild-mannered boy is tackling his sister and stealing her shoe on the swing. It’s not your fault. You’re not a bad mother. He’s just possessed. By testosterone.  (There’s a reason why there are so many movies made about 10-12-year-old boys. It’s an awkward age and generally painful for everyone involved, so don’t think your child is the only one starring in Goonies.)

Unfortunately, our feminine-leaning society does not know what to do with rowdy boys. Honestly, the quiet, bookish ones are easy to manage. So we encourage boys with those traits and roll our eyes at the aggressive, physical ones, declaring, “Boys will be boys,” as if they’re a cursed group who must simply be tolerated. Yes, they may drive moms crazy with their energy and need for physical acts of stupidity, but if we try to make boys suppress their masculinity for our own comfort, we risk robbing them of their unique, God-given strengths.

The answer is not to change them; it’s to beat them. With boffer swords. Only moms shouldn’t be the ones delivering the non-violent blows. This is the time when a boy needs his dad (or other strong male role model) to step up to the plate and actively guide his development. Sure, Mom can keep the peace with threats of punishment, but what a boy really needs is a positive outlet for his aggression and the occasional reminder from Dad that he’s still a pup. In animal packs, the Alpha Male asserts his dominance when challenged by the young pups, and while I’m not advocating dads pounding or humiliating their sons, some good-natured physical competition is necessary for boys to test their strength and find out if they have what it takes to be a man. (Please note the smile on my son’s face, below, as he passes his dad on the race track. Yes, my husband took his foot off the gas, but sometimes boys also need a taste of victory.)

Racing Dad

Boys need a safe place to test themselves. If we don’t channel a boy’s energy toward appropriate opponents – Dad, sports, martial arts – then we shouldn’t be surprised to find the boy sitting on his sister, just because he can. Much like falling into a vat of toxic waste unleashes power in a superhero (or villain), it’s as if the surge in testosterone awakens a boy to his powers, and either we channel them for good instead of evil, or we ground our boys until they’re 20. Your choice, moms.

There’s nothing wrong with boys who are more physical and daring. I’m thankful for men who risk their lives to rescue us from burning buildings and fight for our freedom and safety. If my son had brothers, they’d be wrestling all the time and it would be no big deal because boys can dish it out and take it. His sister, however, can dish it out, but can’t take it without ending up in tears. It’s not his aggression that’s the problem, it’s his target. The answer? A beat down with a boffer sword. Yes, my husband came to the rescue and restored balance to the Force.

Boffer Sword Fight

If you’d like to know how to make these inexpensive weapons for safe, epic battles between father and son, the instructions are below, courtesy of my husband.  Who rocks.

2016 Update: These are not just for boys, by the way. My daughter and her friends love them! I brought them to a 5th grade girl’s birthday party and the girls spent the evening gleefully whacking the tar out of each other, protesting loudly when I took the swords home with me. For making girl swords, however, I highly recommend getting duct tape in fun colors/designs for the handle.

I also used these to teach a Sunday School lesson to 6th grade boys on the Sword of the Spirit. My husband would say a lie of the enemy – “You’re such a loser” – then one of the boys would read a corresponding scripture taped to one of the swords – “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1) – and proceed to battle the “enemy” (my husband) with the boffer sword. It was an epic Sunday School lesson on the power of scripture. And swords.

Basic Boffer Sword Construction

 “Boffers” are padded practice weapons for safe and fun fencing.  They are inexpensive and easy to construct.  Materials include:

  • 3/4″ PVC pipe ($1.70 for a 10′ pipe at Home Depot)
  • Normal-sized, closed-cell-foam pool noodles (Dollar stores often carry 4′ noodles.  Other stores often carry 5′ noodles for $2-3 each.)
  • Duct tape (<$4 for a 55yd roll at Home Depot)

From a 10′ PVC pipe and 2-3 pool noodles you can make four 1-handed, short swords suitable for kids and adults as described below (final length 36”), or adjust lengths to get anything from toddler-sized parrying daggers up to daddy-sized 2-handed monsters.

boffer_parts boffer_assembled
  1. Slide the blade padding over the end of the PVC core.  Work slowly and gently to prevent tearing of the foam.  Leave 8″ of PVC extending from the hilt/pommel end and 4″ of foam extending past the PVC at the blade tip end.
  2. Stuff a 4″ piece of foam into the blade tip to prevent the PVC from pushing through.
  3. Wrap the blade lengthwise with duct tape, beginning with several inches on the handle, extending up and over the blade tip and back down the opposite side.  Repeat with overlapping strips of duct tape, leaving no foam exposed.  Do not compress the foam while wrapping. Make every effort to minimize wrinkles; the smoother, the better.
  4. Slide the pommel padding over the exposed PVC.  Work slowly and gently to prevent tearing of the foam.  The pommel padding should overlap the PVC by 2″ and leave 2″ of foam extending past the PVC.
  5. Stuff a 2″ piece of foam into the pommel to prevent the PVC from pushing through.
  6. Wrap the pommel with duct tape similarly to the blade, with overlapping lengthwise strips.
  7. Wrap the handle with duct tape to secure the ends of the blade and pommel wrappings.


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Last weekend, I spontaneously decided that a family fun night was in order – it was either that, or lock the kids in their rooms for the rest of winter – and invited my daughter, Little Miss Planner, to help organize it.  Honestly, I think putting her “in charge” was as much of a thrill for her as the actual event itself.  We started by coming up with 3 possible options for the dinner menu, dessert, game, and family movie.  (We’ll use this same format next month when it’s my son’s turn to plan our family fun night.)  Even though I came up with most of the ideas, I tried to casually mention them as options from which she got to choose.  Again, she had so much fun writing down the ideas we came up with and circling her favorites, I was reminded that giving kids opportunities to have control is good from time to time.  (Not surprisingly, she’s been a much more cooperative child this week.  Hmmm…)

As we narrowed down the list of ideas, I realized that we could easily turn our fun night into a snow-themed party, a fitting way to celebrate the good part of winter – snow!  Here is what we did, along with some ideas for your own snowy fun.

Dinner Menu
Since we’ve had snow on the ground since Christmas, I suggested that we gather some clean snow to make snow cones.  I had bought some snow cone syrup years ago, and it had been sitting, unopened, in the garage for who knows how long.  But since it’s just corn syrup and chemicals, we decided to take a chance and ended up enjoying delicious, watermelon-flavored snow cones.  (It was actually strawberry syrup, though – I said it was old.)  Real snow cones are awesome!  If you have the means, I highly recommend them.

To go along with our snow theme, I wrapped homemade burgers on buns in white parchment paper and called them “snowball burgers.” (This was a BIG deal to my gluten intolerant family, since we rarely buy expensive GF buns.  However, I’ve discovered that the crusts from Udi’s and Rudi’s bread make great buns when buttered and grilled.)  I made a fresh fruit salad with pineapple, strawberries and kiwi, then sprinkled dried coconut on top and called it “snow-covered fruit salad.”  For veggies, I cut up broccoli “trees” and drizzled ranch dressing “snow” over top.

January 2013 006

I knew my craft-loving daughter would get excited about decorating, so I dug out some snowflake stamps for her to use to decorate white paper as place mats (which, unfortunately, doesn’t show up in my picture).  We set out colored pencils so everyone could draw snowman pictures on their place mats while they waited for dinner, like the kids do at restaurants.  I also gave my daughter snowflake stickers to put on cheap, white paper plates.  I dug out some plastic snowman cups and snowman napkins from Christmas, and also set some snowflake votive candle holders on the table.  It’s easy to re-purpose Christmas decorations to add a festive touch (if your husband is willing to drag out the boxes from the garage that you JUST put away).

For music, we played the “Happy Feet” soundtrack (which I’ll admit, I do enjoy) while we got everything ready.  During dinner, we switched to George Winston’s “December” album, which is not overly Christmasy, and provides nice background music.

Our favorite activity, hands down, was the “snowball” fight with rolled up white socks as snowballs.  We each took a corner of the room and started with 6 “sockballs” each.  The kids and I hid behind chairs, while my husband was exposed (to level the playing field a little).  My daughter got to tell us when to start, then we proceeded to pelt each other with socks.  The great thing about sockballs is that they’re reusable, so we played until I got tired of getting beaned in the head by my husband, who has way better aim than I do.

For our other game, my daughter chose Cadoo, which is Cranium for kids.  It involves easy word puzzles and group activities like charades, drawing, and sculpting.  The winner got a ride in the “snowmobile” (an 18-gallon storage bin powered by my husband), while the losers dumped a sockball avalanche on the snowmobile.

Ice Cream Snowmen

After so much play and exertion, we were ready for dessert.  To go with some leftover cake, we made ice cream snowmen.  Unfortunately, we were in a hurry to assemble them before we started the party, and did not let the ice cream scoops harden long enough, so our snowmen ended up leaning on the cake for support.  Oh well.  They’re super easy to make, however.  I used a cookie scoop to scoop out 3 small vanilla ice cream scoops for each snowman, and placed them in a wax paper-lined pan.  (I’d recommend letting them harden in the freezer for at least a half-hour to avoid lopsided snowmen.)  When the balls are firm, stack them into snowmen next to an edge of your pan to keep them from tipping over.  Put them back in the freezer for another 10-20 minutes.  (I skipped this step and regretted it.)  While they’re firming up, gather your supplies for making the face, arms, and hat.  Decorating the snowmen is a great activity for the kids.

  • For the face, we used mini chocolate chips for eyes, and jimmies sprinkles for the nose and mouth.  We use an orange sprinkle as a “carrot nose” by inserting a pointed end into the ice cream.  We used a brown sprinkle as a mouth.
  • For the arms, we used Glutino gluten free stick pretzels.  I broke the sticks in half, since a half pretzel looked better.
  • For the hat, we used a partially melted chocolate chip to “glue” a Rolo candy onto a Peppermint Patty because that’s what I had on hand.  (I warned the kids to eat the candies separately because…yuck.)  You can use a mini cookie for the base of the hat and whatever candy you have on hand for the top.  To glue them together, put 1 chocolate chip per hat on a piece of wax paper and heat it in the microwave until it starts to soften.  It should still retain its shape until you press down on it.  Use a spatula to transfer it to the base of the Rolo or whatever candy you’re using, then attach it to the base of the hat.  We had a hard time keeping the hats on the snowmen, but they still looked cute!

Snowman Candy Hats

After dessert, we watched our favorite winter movie, “Snowball Express” – a must-see family movie!  It’s from the ’70s, so it might be hard to track down, but it’s great fun.  “Happy Feet” and “Happy Feet 2” are also great for little ones.  Older kids will like “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” or “Chronicles of Narnia.”  Any movie about winter/snow would work, though.

During the movie, we had to have some hot chocolate, of course.  (We normally don’t consume this much sugar, but that’s what makes it a party!)  This easy mix can be used with any kind of milk, so it’s perfect for kids with dairy allergies who can’t have the powdered mixes.  I like to keep a batch of this mix in a container to add to warm milk whenever the kids have been playing in the snow.  Add your favorite flavoring and you have gourmet cocoa that’s a whole lot healthier than the stuff from the store for just pennies.

Dairy Free Cocoa

Dairy Free Cocoa Mix:

  • 1/4 c. cocoa (the kind you use for baking)
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • Milk (dairy, rice, almond, coconut)
  • Flavoring, optional (vanilla flavoring, peppermint extract, rum extract, coffee syrups)
  • Canned whipped cream or mini marshmallows, if desired

Combine cocoa and sugar in a container.  Heat milk of choice (or decaf coffee for the grown-ups!) in the microwave until just warm.  In my microwave, it takes about 1 min. to heat 6 oz. (3/4 c.) milk.  Stir a heaping tablespoon of cocoa mix into each 6 oz. of milk (slightly more for coffee), then add a drop or two of flavoring, if desired.  Top with a squirt of whipped cream or mini marshmallows (or if you’re me, use kitchen scissors to cut up old, hard marshmallows leftover from last summer – the kids will never know!).

With a little creativity and planning, having a snow party can break up the winter blahs and brighten those long, dark nights.  For more indoor winter party ideas, check out my posts on cheap Valentines Fun with kids and Spring Break Staycation ideas.  Yes, it can be a happy January!

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